A/N: Our local paper just had an article about a chef who, on seeing our local fire department working a structure fire, decided that they could use some lessons about healthy cooking. She was quoted as saying. That she "was struck by their organization," but she also "thought to herself that they could use some nutritional guidance," and also said "you don't always know with a handful of big brawny guys how they will feel about vegetables." (I****a Journal, 1/18/2011).

I'm sure the chef had the best of intentions, and showed the stations she went to some great, time-saving, healthy recipes. But of course, that's not what the fanfiction part of my brain imagined.

I should also point out that I've been a vegetarian for years, and that the character in this story is not intended to represent the chef in the article, who I know nothing about.

Disclaimer: I don't own them, but Emergency Productions, Mark VII, and Universal TV do, and I don't make a dime. If I borrow them, I will feed them, and burp them, and put them back when I'm done with them.

51 Cordon Bleu

"All right fellas, one more thing, so listen up!" Captain Stanley had completed roll call, and had given out work assignments for the day. "Today the department is sending us a guest – Carol Freeman. She's a dietitian, and the head chef at the Tree of Life restaurant."

"Uh, Cap," asked Chet, "what interest would a cook have in a ride-along? I mean, sure, she might learn a thing or two about kitchen safety, but –"

Stanley cut him off. "No, actually, Kelly, she doesn't want to learn from us, she wants to teach us."

"Uh, oh," Stoker said quietly. He could see where this was going.

"You see," continued the captain, "there was a small grease fire in the kitchen at the Tree of Life a few weeks ago. B-shift from 73s responded, and took care of it easily. Ms. Freeman, as she prefers to be called, was impressed with the men's work."

"So she's gonna cook for us? Far out!" exclaimed Gage.

"No, not quite, John. You see, she was impressed with their work, but not with, um, their apparent fitness," Cap continued delicately. "She wrote to the Chief and offered nutritional counseling to the department, to help us learn healthier eating habits."

There was a colllective groan from the men of 51's A-shift.

"Uh-uh, Cap; no way! The guys still haven't gotten over the rabbit food I was serving after Morton brainwashed me into health food that time," Chet recalled.

"Sorry, Chet; it's not open for debate. Orders from on high, and there's nothing I can do about 'em. We are instructed to cooperate, and to be –" he looked at the memo he was holding - "polite and interested. That is all. Dismissed."

Grumbles and whines ensued, as the firemen left the engine bay to get busy with their work assignments. Marco was to cook that day. Chet and Johnny were to clean the station's common areas. Cap had assigned the two to work on all the cleaning chores together for three shifts, after a particularly juvenile spate of pranks between the two of them that had escalated until Captain Stanley, normally a very patient man, had had enough of their antics. Especially once he'd gotten caught in the backsplash of somebody's water bomb. This pairing of pranksters left Mike and Roy to do a fire code inspection.


Roy and Stoker were enjoying a calm, quiet ride in the squad. They didn't usually get to work together, with Mike being an engineer and Roy being a paramedic. But, Chet's and Johnny's punishment duty threw the two quieter members of the station together for a morning, and neither of them minded the silence. Or at least, the lack of chatter.

Roy heard Stoker sigh heavily. "What's on your mind, Mike?"

"Aww, it's just this thing with the chef. I mean, don't get me wrong, we could all learn a thing or two about how to make decent food, but I just have a bad feeling that it's not gonna be that simple."

"How come?" Roy asked, puzzled.

"I dunno, but do you know what kind of place Tree of Life is?" Stoker didn't wait for Roy's reply. "Vegetarian – and I think the kind where they don't even have eggs or milk. And," he went on, in a highly uncharacteristic tirade, "what does the Chief mean by 'cooperate?' How much? How long? I mean, the department can't make rules about what we hafta eat, can they?"

Roy pondered this. "Well, they can make rules about what we wear, when we sleep, and pretty much anything else, so I suppose, yeah, they could tell us what to eat..."


"Boy, Gage; this dame is gonna be big trouble. I mean, have you ever been to that place?" Chet asked Johnny, as they started on the dorm.

"Never even heard of it," said Johnny. "What is it, anyhow?"

"Oh, man, you don't even wanna know. It's this hippy vegetarian place – I went there once with a girl, and I didn't even know what half the stuff on the menu was!"

Johnny laughed. "I can't quite picture you at a vegetarian restaurant, Kelly. How'd you end up there?"

"Don't ask – the girl was a dream, but the date was a nightmare," Chet moaned.

"Well how come?"

"Let's just say, if you're not used to eating that much fiber..."

"Whoa, Chet! I think that's all I need to hear, pal," said Johnny. "So, do you think this Carol Freeman person is gonna try to get us to go vegetarian?"

"Well whaddaya think, Gage? She runs a vegetarian restaurant, and the memo says we have to cooperate. We're doomed," Chet said glumly.


Marco was busy in the kitchen, doing prep for that evening's dinner – his famous tacos. They were delicious, and the best thing about them was that since you didn't put them together until you were just about to eat them, they were a great choice for a meal that you didn't know when you were going to get to eat. Even though it was mid-morning, he could get a start on dinner while things were – no, don't even think the word.

He unwrapped a large package of ground beef, dumped it into a skillet, and began breaking up the clumps as he browned the meat. He whistled and sang along with the radio as he worked.

As the meat was browning, he rummaged through the cabinets for a box of taco seasoning packets. He found it, and added two packets to the now-browned meat. As he stirred it in, the grease turned the deep orange color that meant it was now taco meat, not just ground beef.

He took inventory of the rest of the ingredients, just to make extra sure all the fixin's were there. "Sour cream, check! Guacamole, check! Two dozen taco shells, check! Onions, where are the onions, can't have tacos without the onions..."

As he sorted through the meager contents of the vegetable drawer, finding two onions as well as the iceberg lettuce he would make into a salad, Marco suddenly heard a voice.

"Oh... my... goodness." A petite dark-haired woman, dressed in flowing cotton garments, was standing over the stove and looking at the just-prepared taco meat.

Marco jumped. "Oh, hello. You must be Miss, uh..."

"Ms. Freeman, yes. Yes, I see I will be of some use here. Oh, dear." She looked all around the kitchen, and started opening cabinets.

Captain Stanley heard the voices from his office. He always kept his door open, partly to let the men know that he was always available for them, but also because he had learned that one of the best ways to take the pulse of his crew was to be able to hear the daily goings-on as he completed his desk work.

Realizing that one of the voices he was hearing was feminine, he stepped out to see if their visitor had arrived. Sure enough, there she was, making herself at home in 51's kitchen. Marco was leaning up against the wall, watching in dismay as the woman rifled through the cabinets.

"Ms. Freeman, I presume?" asked Cap.

The woman turned. "Oh, you must be the captain. I can see I will definitely be needed here, yes. Did you see what your man here has been cooking?"

"That's Marco Lopez, and I don't need to see – I can smell it! Tacos, Marco – smells great!"

Marco issued a grim smile, and shook his head. "Don't get too attached, Cap."

"No indeed," Ms. Freeman added emphatically. "This is exactly what I was afraid of. Captain, this diet will kill you all by the time you're forty – fat, sodium, processed foods, and enough cholesterol to sink a ship!"

Captain Stanley was taking an immediate dislike to the brusque chef. "Well, I'm forty-five, and I've hardly dropped dead at all. Plus, nobody on this shift is overweight – not even close."

"Yeah, wait'll you see Gage!" said Marco. "He eats more than all of us put together, and he's skinny as a rail!"

"Who's skinny as a rail?" asked Johnny, as he and Chet burst into the kitchen. "Oh, good morning," he said as he flashed their guest a blinding smile. Even though she really wasn't his type, he put on the charm anyhow, for good measure. "Polite and interested," he whispered to Chet, "remember?"

"Well, if you've been eating ..." she gestured at the stove, ".., this... all your life, you must be genetically predisposed to be slim, because, gentlemen, this kitchen, and everything in it, is a disaster."

She pointed to Marco. "You, throw all of this out and then go get the groceries from my car." She looked around the kitchen. "I can certainly work in this kitchen – the appliances are quite modern – but I can see you need some serious nutrition lessons if you're going to get healthy."

Chet just stood there, with his mouth open. For once, he had nothing to say – the nerve of that woman, barging into their firehouse and insulting the best cook amongst them!

Ms. Freeman noticed Chet's deer-in-the-headlights look. "You look like you need a job, mister. You can get out all the pots and pans, so I can see what kind of equipment we have to work with."

Chet looked at Cap, who said, "Do what the lady says, Kelly. I'm sure Gage can finish the cleaning, right?"

Chet and Johnny looked at each other, neither one sure who was getting the worse end of the deal.

Johnny decided to hang around. Just in case things got interesting...


Marco went out to the lady's car, and grabbed the two paper sacks in the trunk. Something dark green and leafy filled one entire bag, as far as he could tell. The other bag felt more substantial. Not as substantial as the delicious-smelling taco meat he'd just been forced to throw out, though.

Marco muttered to himself as he slammed the car door with a knee. "Doesn't she know we have to have energy? Bunny chow isn't energy. I'd like to see her handle a deuce-and-a-half for more than five seconds."

He arrived back in the kitchen, setting the two bags on the counter, just in time to see Chet drag out the last pot from the lower cabinet. The table was covered with every pot and pan in the station, and all the baking trays as well.

Ms. Freeman commented on their small arsenal of cookware. "Well, I see that nearly everything here is... blackened. How apropos. Even though your equipment is quite abused and, well, minimalist, I think I can work with it."

She turned to the four men, all with gaping jaws. "Well, don't just stand there! Let's get started! And, I thought there were supposed to be six of you – where are the other two?"

"Uh, ma'am, Stoker and Desoto are out doing a code re-inspection; they should be back before lunch," said Captain Stanley.

"Ah, yes! I have brought some sandwich supplies to give you some ideas for lunches. There won't be any prep work for lunch, but dinner will require a head start. So, in the meantime, I'll put you to work on the kale." She motioned the captain over to the bag that was overflowing with greens.

Chet snickered at hearing his captain ordered around like a probie. But Cap's glare shut him up quickly.

Captain Stanley started filling up a sink. "Ms. Freeman, this is an awful lot of garnish! You must really like decorating your meals," he said, as he loaded the kale in the sink.

She looked horrified. "Garnish? No! This is the best of foods! Of all the leafy greens, kale is the highest in many vitamins. It has loads of calcium, too – important for active people like you."

She addressed the group. "Today you will learn to prepare a dairy-free, meat-free meal that will contain a complete protein, as well as a day's supply of all the important vitamins and many minerals. We will be making a bulghur-lentil casserole, with side dishes of kale and roasted root vegetables. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised with both the process and the outcome."

Silence.

Chet broke the silence. "Uh, ma'am, aren't lentils a kind of, well, beans?"

"Of course they are – vegetarian diets nearly always use legumes as their protein base. Is there a problem with that?"

"Well," Chet continued earnestly, "you know what can happen when you eat beans, right?"

Ms. Freeman sighed with exasperation. "Yes, certainly, flatulence can occur, particularly in those whose digestive systems have been bogged down for years by animal products. But certainly this is only a minor problem!"

Chet couldn't help it. "It's just that our jobs do require frequent exposure to open flames, and—" he stumbled forward as Marco smacked him on the back to try to shut him up.

"Kelly, latrines! Now!" Cap barely managed to hold in his guffaws, but it wouldn't do to let them out in front of the men.

"I apologize, ma'am. Boys will be boys," said the captain, as he swished some kale in the sink.

Ms. Freeman ignored his apology, and set the other two to work. "You," she said, pointing to Johnny, "can chop these onions, and saute them with some oil in a skillet. You," - she pointed to Marco, "can get the lentils and bulghur cooking."

"Uh, ma'am?" asked Marco. "I'm not sure what bulghur is. Is it a spice of some kind?"

"No, no, it's right here—" she pulled a bag of something gritty-looking out of the grocery sack. "It's cracked wheat. All you need to do is pour boiling water over it in a bowl, and let it soak."

"Now, speaking of spices, where are the rest of yours?" She had gotten the six spice jars down from their rack over the stove. "I see garlic salt, pepper, parsley – hm, expired 1973, let's toss that – chili powder, italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. I'm impressed that you know to keep the rest of your spices away from the stove, but where could they be?" She opened drawers, looking for something she was, alas, not to find.

"Ma'am, those are our spices," said Johnny. "I mean, we never really needed any other ones, except that one time that Roy made that Beef Burgy-whatchacallit, but we made him take those home."

She gaped at them. "Well, this meal will definitely be underseasoned, then, but I suppose that will have to do. Yes," she said to Marco, "just put the whole bag of lentils in the pot and fill it with water."

"What you have here, gentlemen," said Ms. Freeman, addressing the remaining three men, now busy with their tasks, "is the start of many wholesome and simple vegetarian meals: a legume, a whole grain, and vegetables. In fact, nearly every meal prepared at Tree of Life is based on some combination of these elements! Yes, I think the department will benefit greatly from a new meal plan."

Johnny's eyes teared vigorously – must've been the onions.


Meanwhile, Stoker and Roy were finishing writing up the list of citations that the auto body repair shop they were reinspecting would have to pay fines for.

"You knew when we were here two weeks ago that you would have to fix these violations by today, so there's nothing I can do about this," said Roy. "I'm sorry, but until the fines are paid, and until you've had a satisfactory reinspection, your shop is closed."

"Yeah, yeah," grumbled the shop foreman, watching morosely as Stoker finished hanging the notices in the window.

Roy handed the foreman the yellow copy of the paperwork, along with a business card. "When you're ready for a reinspection, call the Fire Marshal at this number."

Roy and Stoker got back in the squad.

"Whew, I hate those," said Stoker. "Thanks for doing the talking."

"No problem," said Roy. "I was just glad nobody got too mad at us. Those were some mighty big fellas. But, two weeks ago when John and I were out here, it was pretty clear they all hate the shop owner, so that was working in our favor."

They drove in companionable silence for a few minutes.

"Hey, I think Marco's makin' tacos tonight!" Roy said brightly. "Those always go down good, even if the meat has to sit in the oven for a coupla hours."

"Yeah, but Roy, that chef lady is s'posed to come today. What if she changes his plans?"

Roy had forgotten about that. The two men drove on in silence, both worrying about what they were going to get fed that evening.


"So, Ms. Freeman, how long should I fry these onions for?" asked Gage.

"Just till they're nice and translucent – you don't want them browned. Oh, Mr. Lopez, let's skim the scum off that pot of lentils."

Kelly came in just in time to hear the word "scum."

"Wow, those beans have been cooking for a long time!" said Chet. "That could be tough on a day with a lotta runs."

"Yes, well, I was wondering about that," said Ms. Freeman. "For a fire station, it does seem awfully quiet around—"

BBBBAAAAAHHHM, BOOOP BWEEEEEEP! "ENGINE 51, DUMPSTER FIRE, 3634 SYLVAN, CROSS STREET DUNMORE. 3-6-3-4 SYLVAN. TIME OUT: 1153."

Four men cheered silently, as they went on a run that was their least favorite kind in the world.


Roy and Mike heard the engine get called to the dumpster fire. "L.A., this is Squad 51, requesting that we respond with Engine 51 to their incident. The truck's engineer is currently with squad 51 on a code inspection."

"10-4, Squad 51, respond to Engine 51's incident. Time out: 1155."

Roy and Mike joined the engine at the scene. By the time they got there, Kelly and Lopez had extinguished the dumpster fire, while Captain Stanley advised the property owners on how to prevent future dumpster fires.

Stoker surreptitiously checked his engine for scratches – he never totally trusted anyone, even Cap, with his prize. Satisfied that the engine was in the same condition that he'd left it in earlier, he stepped up into the driver's seat to drive his usual vehicle back to the station. Johnny rejoined Roy in the squad.

"Hey, Junior, how's it been going back at the ranch? Many calls this morning?" Roy knew that Johnny enjoyed the occasional shift as a regular fireman.

"Oh, great, just great," Johnny said sarcastically. "Not one run till now, and Roy? That chef lady? She's gonna kill us all. You should see what she's makin' us cook! There's lentils, and some kinda cracked wheat thing, and all this green stuff – like a whole grocery bag of it – and so many beets we're all gonna pee pink for a week!"

Roy pondered the combination of ingredients. "What's she doing with it all?"

"Well I dunno! Some kinda casserole or somethin'. Except for the green stuff, it's all brown. Brown! And beans – you know what that's gonna do to us. Man, they should make her sleep in the dorm with us all tonight."

Johnny couldn't contain himself. He gestured wildly as he continued. "And ya know somethin' else? She's mean, Roy! She keeps pointing to people and sayin' 'you, do this! You, do that!' She even ordered Cap around, fer cryin' out loud!

"And another thing! She says our equipment is 'minimalist' and 'abused,' all persnickety-like. Well if she wants to see some equipment that's not so minimalist—"

Roy couldn't take it any more. "Calm down, Johnny – it can't be that bad, can it? And, I mean, it couldn't hurt us to eat a little healthier, could it? At least some of the time," added Roy, always the peace maker.

"Yeah, but Roy? There's healthy, and then there's insane. And I know which side of the line this whole fiasco is on." Johnny crossed his arms and sulked the rest of the way back to the station.


Stoker drove the engine back to the station, surprised how little in the way of horseplay the guys pulled as they were cleaning up from the dumpster fire. Small fires without injuries, bystanders or major property damage brought out the worst in Chet, for some reason – you could always be sure there would be some silliness during cleanup.

They never talked much in the engine – it was too hard to hear. But Stoker was a little worried by how quiet they had all been during the short cleanup. He wondered what kind of trouble the chef had been cooking up.

Stoker carefully backed the truck into its spot in the bay, set the brake, turned off the engine, and hopped down. As soon as the engine was off, he could hear Chet complaining.

"Aw, c'mon, Cap! Can't we just get some burgers for lunch or somethin'? Who knows what she's got for lunch! Prob'ly twigs, or hay, or somethin'!"

"Kelly, one more complaint out of you and you'll have latrine duty for a month of shifts. Two months! Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

The squad backed into its slot neatly. Johnny was still sulking, and Roy was studiously ignoring him.

"I'm gonna go get a glass of milk," said Gage, stomping off to the kitchen. "Gotta get a lining on my stomach before lunch."

He yanked the coffee-brown fridge door open, and stared in dismay. There was no milk.

"There's no milk! There's never no milk! Hey, how come there's no milk?" he practically bellowed to Ms. Freeman. "There were like four jugs in there this mornin', and now there's none! How could you use up two gallons of milk in your recipe?"

"Mr. Gage, milk is one of the least healthy foods – and I hesitate to call it that – on the planet."

"Whaddaya mean, least healthy? It's all natural! Nothing could be better!" sputtered Johnny.

"Do you see any other mammals on this planet that consume milk from other species? No? Then how could it be natural? It is an absolutely unnatural thing for an adult mammal to consume the milk meant for the young of another animal!"

Roy was listening from the doorway with amusement. "Put like that, it doesn't sound so appetizing, does it?"

Johnny's espresso eyes shot needles at his partner. "Et tu, Roy? Aaah, I'm gonna go inventory our supplies till lunchtime." He stomped out of the kitchen with a disgusted look on his face.

Marco, who technically was responsible for making sure the men got fed, since it was his day for KP, trudged reluctantly into the kitchen. Roy simultaneously ducked out, to avoid getting sucked into any drama.

"Ah, Mr. Lopez. I trust you are still my designated helper today? Good," said Freeman briskly. "Let us make some sandwiches." She removed a bag of carrots and a large box of something green and ... furry-looking ... from the refrigerator. "You may begin by washing and grating these carrots."

"Shouldn't I peel them, too?" asked Marco, trying to be helpful.

"Good heavens, no! All the vitamins are in the peels!"

"Oh." Marco began scrubbing the carrots, hoping to get every speck off of them. "So how are we gonna use these in sandwiches?" He didn't really want to know, but it didn't feel right not to ask.

"Grated carrots are moist and delicious in sandwiches. They go very well with the tahini and alfalfa sprouts, too."

So that's what the hairy-looking stuff is, Marco thought to himself. Chet's right – we should've stopped for burgers.

Ms. Freeman began slicing loaves of dark whole-wheat bread. She slathered each piece with a tannish paste, and heaped alfalfa sprouts on the paste. As Marco finished grating carrots, she added a dollop of that to each mound as well, and topped it off with another slice of goo-smeared bread.

"Well, that should do it," said the chef. "You may summon the men for lunch," she said, putting a plate with a sandwich and an apple at each place at the table.

Marco dreaded the moment the men would sit down for lunch. It really didn't look normal to him – all those green furry-looking bits hanging out from between the bread. He took a deep breath, and hollered out into the station.

"Chow time!"

Usually, this phrase brought fireman to the kitchen in seconds, salivating like a whole pack of Pavlovian dogs. Today, though, the footsteps were unhurried – even reluctant.

"Polite and interested, boys, polite and interested," Cap reminded them sotto voce.

The men sat at their customary places at the table, inspecting the sandwiches dubiously.

"Well," Roy said politely. "This looks interesting."

"Brown nose," muttered Chet, kicking him under the table.

"Why thank you, Mr. DeSoto," the visitor said primly.

"So, uh, what's in these?" Stoker asked. Privately, he was hoping the food would be so vile that nobody would complain about his cooking again. It would be worth having one awful meal – okay, two, since dinner was looking rough – to be able to remind the guys of this each time they groaned about his same old stand-by dishes.

"Carrots, alfalfa sprouts, and tahini," said the chef, taking a bite.

"I think mine needs a shave," said Chet, poking at the sprouts protruding from the edges of the sandwich. Cap gave him a warning look.

Johnny just sat there, looking at his sandwich. He had a sudden thought. Yeah, it could work! "Well, I for one am glad to be able to sit down to a nice, quiet lu—"

BBBBAAAAAHHHM, BOOOP BWEEEEEEP!

Yes! Gage said silently to himself, as six chairs screeched back across the kitchen floor.

"SQUAD 51, MAN TRAPPED IN ROLL OF BARBED WIRE. 17322 PINE DRIVE, CROSS STREET ASPEN. 1-7-3-2-2- PINE DRIVE. TIME OUT: 1248."

"Oooh, bad luck!" said Johnny. "This one sounds like it could take a while. Don't wait for us – dig in!"

Roy was responding from their call station and writing the address on a slip of paper. The two relieved paramedics went to go see how a man could possibly get stuck in a roll of barbed wire.


Having delivered their multiply-punctured patient to Treatment 3, Roy and Johnny stopped at Dixie's station for supplies.

Dix heard Johnny's stomach growling. "What's the matter, Johnny, did you guys miss lunch with this run? That's too bad," she sympathized. "Why don't you head down to the cafeteria while I round up these supplies for you. I know it's not your favorite lunch stop, but—"

"No, no!" both men protested. "The cafeteria's a great idea, Dix! Thanks! We'll stop by when we're done – shouldn't be but a few minutes."


The four men left in the station made it through their sandwiches.

"And now, since you've cleaned your plates, dessert!" With a flourish, Carol Freeman uncovered a 9x13 pan of moist, chewy-looking brown bars.

"Brownies! Right on!" said Chet. Everyone grabbed at once. Each man took a huge bite of his brownie. All together, their faces became crestfallen.

"Carob brownies, sweetened with rice syrup!" announced the chef.


Marco couldn't wait for the shift to be over. No, he took that back. He couldn't wait for the first half of the shift to be over – the day half. Usually, he didn't mind the first twelve hours, but somewhat dreaded the overnight half of the shift. Today, though, was a different story. He couldn't wait till dinner was over, and their guest gone.

Suddenly, he realized there was really no reason he couldn't try Gage's technique. It wouldn't make their chef leave any sooner, but it might, just might, get them out of dinner. He didn't really think it would work – after all, it was just a superstition. But it was worth a try.

"So, Ms. Freeman," he said as he peeled some beets, "you were saying this morning that it seemed awfully quiet to you. We are usually busier than this, but I guess our lucky stars are lined up today. We should have no problem getting everything done for supper."

No tones. Damn, and I really laid it on thick, too.

"Well, if you do get called out to a big fire, never fear; I will leave everything covered in a slow oven, and it should be just fine when you get back."

"Well, you've thought of everything," Marco said politely. And with interest.


Back at Rampart, John and Roy stopped at the nurses' station to pick up their supplies from Dixie.

"Well, that was fast," she said to them, handing them a box. "Why were you in such a hurry? I've only seen you just the once today – it's been pretty qu—"

BEEP BEEP BEEP! went Roy's Handy-Talkie. "Squad 51, stand by for response."

The men listened while many stations' tones sounded over the radio – including 51's. Finally the dispatcher came back on.

"BATTALION 14, STATION 51, TRUCK 127, STATION 10: STRUCTURE FIRE AT THE PAPER WAREHOUSE. 1254 EIGHTH STREET. 1-2-5-4- EIGHTH STREET, CROSS STREET MADISON. TIME OUT: 1407."


Five hours later, six sooty, thirsty, famished firemen returned to quarters.

"Men, excellent job out there today. You all showed perfect judgment and initiative, and we saved every person there. Great work! Oh, and Chief McConnike says we're stood down till 2100 to clean up and eat."

The men acknowledge his praise, with very little energy. They were starved, but the prospect of entering the kitchen did not pique their interest. Nonetheless, they had to eat. Marco led the way into the kitchen. He'd already seen the whole meal, and was in charge of getting it served anyhow, since their guest had left.

He was annoyed to see that the casserole dishes were all out on the counter. They were still slightly warm to the touch, but not hot enough to be served.

"She said she'd keep everything warm! Well, we'll just have to eat it cold," he muttered to himself. "Not like it could get much worse that way."

As the men filed in like condemned prisoners on their way to the gallows, Marco noticed a piece of paper in the middle of the table. He picked it up, and read it to himself. His face slowly lit up in a huge grin.

"Hey guys, listen to this!" He read the note aloud. "Dear A-Shift of 51s: We heard you had the bean lady today. Dinner's in the oven – on us! Pay it forward – C-shift at 10s is up tomorrow. Your pals at Station 85."

Johnny ran to open the oven. He started to yank things out and set them on the table. "Lookit! Fried chicken! Mashed potatoes! Macaroni and cheese! And six burgers! Man, those guys are geniuses! Geniuses!" he shouted, chipmunking a bite of drumstick in his cheek so he could continue talking with his mouth full. He waved the chicken leg at Cap, to emphasize his point once more. "Absolute geniuses!"

The men made short work of the food, and took turns showering while Marco cleaned up the kitchen. It was nearly nine p.m. when they had finished cycling through the showers and cleaning up the kitchen.

Johnny came into the kitchen just as Marco was getting ready to empty the large casserole of brown grainy-looking food into the trash. "Whoa, hold on, Marco. I'm starved again, and it looks like that's all there is in the whole station."

Marco held out the casserole dish and a spoon. "Help yourself," he said fervently.

Johnny looked suspiciously at the casserole, but then took a large spoonful. He chewed quietly, looked around to make sure nobody was watching, and took another huge bite.

It was actually quite good.

The End.

A/N: The vitamins are not all in the peels, you know. And the crusts won't make your hair curly either.